Note: This story was originally published May 26, 2017.
UPDATE 7/6/2018: In February, a federal judge rejected a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity and an Arizona Congressman to block the new southern border wall on environmental grounds. Their lawsuit claimed the administration needs to conduct an environmental review.
And another update on this story: El Jefe, the jaguar hasn’t been seen in a while. The Associated Press reported last month that animal activists and wildlife officials suspect he might be dead, based on a photograph of a jaguar pelt which resembles his spot patterns.
Countries recognize borders, but animals and plants don’t. The Trump administration’s proposed 2019 budget earmarks $1.6 billion dollars to get construction started on a southern border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. It’s got big implications for property rights, immigration and trade–but what about the non-human species that live along the border, or want to cross it?
In this bonus episode from Trump on Earth, we teamed up with a fellow environmental podcast Generation Anthropocene to answer that question. Maddy Belin is a student at Stanford and she produced this story.
LISTEN: “Guess What Else the Border Wall Keeps Out”
President Trump’s proposed 2,000-mile long, 30-foot high border wall would impact more than just a pretty landscape. It could bring an end to the species that live in the lush coastal grasslands, searing hot deserts, and staggering mountain peaks in the path of the wall.
Penn State Biology Professor Jesse Lasky researches human impacts on biodiversity. In his 2011 study, Lasky speculates that a coast-to-coast border wall would hurt the species depending on cross-border migration. The wall would block the animals’ daily travels to find food and divide populations into smaller ones, limiting their ability to breed and spread genetic diversity.
“One major source of genetic diversity is dispersal from other populations. If you stop that, then you likely get decreases in genetic diversity within populations. We’re concerned that lower genetic diversity might be a problem for the potential adaptability of a species in response to environmental change, like something like climate change…Some examples of that might be the American black bear, which is pretty widespread in North America, but starts to peter out as you get down to the US-Mexico border,” says Lasky.
The biology professor is also concerned for the future of jaguars and bighorn sheep that frequently cross the border to find food and for any species that may have to migrate northwards as the planet warms to live in suitable temperatures.
But, during George W. Bush’s time in office, large sections of a border wall were built. So what make Trump’s proposed wall so different?
“One thing to note is that the kind of project they’re talking about now would essentially be an impenetrable wall. All those other things that people usually do usually have some sort of openings and penetrability, but what they’re talking about now is a solid concrete wall that’s 30-feet tall or something like that, so that really stands out,” says Lasky.
Lasky and Belin address what laws are already in place that should protect our environment from huge infrastructure projects like this and the 2005 Congressional law that Trump can use override all of these regulations.
Mentioned in This Episode:
- Research Paper: “Conservation biogeography of the US–Mexico border: a transcontinental risk assessment of barriers to animal dispersal.” By Jesse Lasky, Walter Jetz, and Timothy Keitt.
- Podcast: Generation Anthropocene
- For Further Study: National Security and Environmental Laws. Written by Hope Babcock.
- Lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity in federal court that threatens to derail the border wall. A federal judge rejected the lawsuit in February, 2018.
Trump on Earth is produced by The Allegheny Front and Point Park University’s Environmental Journalism program.
The podcast is free to download, follow and listen, so if you find these episodes informative in a chaotic political environment, please consider donating or leaving a review on iTunes. We are actively listening to our reviewers, and each review helps our environmental message reach more ears.